It's even more special now as I watch my Mother and my step-father Ron age and slow down. I tease them about eating dinner at 4p, and senior citizen coupons and the like, but we all know our time on this earth is finite and the time to enjoy and chrish the people you love is now.
And tonight as I enjoy the company of my family, I'm grieving for my former Husband Tony. As I was driving in this afternoon he called me from Florida to tell me that his Mother had just passed away. Yali Gilkinson was born in Bejing, and her family fled to Taiwan when she was a child. She met Tony's father Jack in the 1960s when he was in the air force there. She came to the US with him and had two children, the youngest one was Tony who was my partner and husband from 1996 to 2008, and is still one of my closest and most cherished friends. She became deaf shortly after she had Tony and hadn't learned much English so communication was always interesting to say the least. We yelled loudly and slowly at each other.
She used to call Tony her "Boy", and either because of her hearing, or her limited English skills, I somehow became her "Other Boy", not Gary -- I don't ever recall her calling me by my name. We would visit them in Tampa and she'd say "Hello Boy!" to Tony and "Hello Other Boy!" to me. So it's how I signed her birthday cards and Christmas cards over the years -- "other boy".
In about 1998 she came out West to visit Tony and me and we took her to Vancouver BC where she ran us ragged running all over Chinatown there buying books and DVDs and checking out grocery stores. She would always insist on paying the check whenever we would eat out as well. However, I couldn't sit still for that, so I'd sneak away and give the waiter my credit card when we entered and told him to just ring it up and bring it to me already processed. She caught wind of this and would then get the waiter to give me my card back and take hers. Soon we'd both be plotting elaborate ways to get the check from the other one. In Las Vegas one year I got up to go to the restroom in the middle of dinner and she apparently had quite the fit asking "where is other boy?" until I came back to the table and reassured her I didn't pay for dinner. It was our little game. I'd win sometimes and she'd win sometimes.
She loved her chinesee food, and Tony and I would take her to restaurants and she'd march into the kitchen to instruct them on how to prepare it to her liking, and she was well respected in the Tampa Chinese community. But she loved her grand kids even more. When Tony's sister Debbie had several kids she was the stereotypical Chinese grandmother doting and playing with her grandkids. The picture here is her with her first grandchild Olivia.
The last several years Yali had been in declining health and bedridden, with a number of health problems, unable to do the things she loved, like visiting her grandkids and cooking, or swiming or going for walks. She'd been in the hospital a day or so this time with an infection and today Tony said she passed quitely and peacefully.
I'm sad for Tony and his father Jack tonight, but glad she's no longer bed ridden and miserable. I'll always remember her wry smile and the way she'd scold and fight me for the check when we went out, and I'm proud to have been her "other boy". I'm glad that I'm home tonight with my loved ones, and I'm thinking that Yali is home tonight as well with her loved ones who have passed on, with a Chinese feast and a table of Mah Johng tiles and a lot of laughter.